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Alexander LaVelle Harris inched his way along the rooftop trying desperately to make as little noise as possible. The group of vampires below seemed, so far, to be unaware of his presence. The wooden stake and the cross jammed into his belt dug into skin as he maneuvered himself into a position above the bloodsuckers.
With all the crap that had been going on lately, running into two vampires dragging a young girl into a warehouse had seemed like par for course for him, and when he couldn’t get Buffy, Willow, or anyone on his cell-phone, well…that was just more Xander luck.
Now, looking down through the open skylight down onto the group of six vampires gathered around the altar they had strapped the young girl to, he knew somebody upstairs had it in for him.
Rationally he probably should try and go for help. After all, his chances of taking out six vampires, even with surprise, were virtually nil. But if he did the girl would be dead, not to mention the fact that aside from Buffy or Wills there wasn’t much in the way of help to be had. Considering the neighborhood he was in, there likely was no slayer within yelling distance.
No, he was on his own. On the bright side he couldn’t see any Turok-Han uber-vamps in there.
He took out the container of holy water he had purloined from the neighborhood church and tried to figure out how to get it to splatter the most vampires at once.
Suddenly the old dry-rotted timbers of the roof, stressed beyond their limits by the weight of his body, gave way under him. He was so startled he didn’t even let out a yell as he hurtled downward in a welter of wood and roofing. The impact drove the wind out of him. Gasping for breath he realized he had landed on something softer than the concrete floor of the warehouse. Unfortunately the softer something didn’t like its current use and with an animalistic snarl it surged to its feet, throwing Xander off.
Wobbling to his feet, every part of his body aching, he realized his back was to the altar the girl was tied to. He also realized he was staring a vampire in the face. The ugly ridged face and yellow eyes twisted into an even more distorted form as it growled at him, and then flinched back as Xander shoved his cross at it.
He took a quick glance around him. The other vampires were moving around the altar to get on the same side with him.
“Hey guys, sorry to drop in on your party like this…well actually, no I’m not. It’s just kinda social politeness that forces me to say that.” As he spoke his hand was scrabbling behind him for the knot that held the girls hands. He could hear her sobs behind him. There it was.
“You know you guys should really find another party game than “sacrifice the innocent.” I mean come on, it’s gotta get boring after the first two or three dozen times.” The knot came loose and the girl quickly jerk her hands free of the ropes and, sitting, reached for the ones on her legs.
The vampires snarled as she came partially free. He leapt forward, thrusting the cross into their faces, waving it to catch all of them. This wasn’t going to hold them back long.
“You’d better hurry.” He muttered out of the side of his mouth.
“I’m trying. The rope is-” Just then the knot came loose.
Xander saw her feet, kicking free of the rope, catch the small golden statue the vampires had placed at her feet in preparation for whatever ceremony they had planned, and it went tumbling off the end of the altar.
“No!” The hoarse scream came from one of the vampire’s throats and, as it dived for the stature, the others recoiled in fear. He watched the object hit the floor and the “gold” shatter like glass with a sudden sinking feeling. As he had once told Joyce Summers: generally something that makes the scary things scared, is bad.
Even as he saw the pieces begin to flicker with an odd searing light, he reacted on instinct. The instinct that had kept his friends alive on the Hellmouth for nearly seven years. Heart pounding with an adrenaline high he snatched the young girl from the altar and hurled her bodily as hard as he could out away from the broken statue. Screaming, “Run!”
He had time to see her slide to a stop about twenty-five feet away and roll dazedly to look back at him before the searing golden light enveloped him and obliterated any sight.
* * *
Tumbling through a brilliant and somehow painful golden light for long seconds Xander had time to wonder briefly what the hell was going on and to wonder if he had just died, or was about to, when he was suddenly dropped out of the light into darkness.
Once again he landed on something soft, and this something objected even faster than the last one, a limb slamming him aside even as he hit it. He sprawled upon a much harder, sandy surface, before survival instincts kicked in.
Heaving himself to his hands and knees he lifted his head and found himself staring straight down the barrel of a gun. .45 ACP Heckler & Koch USP pistol, some small part of his mind informed him even as he froze.
“Who the hell are you?”
His mind registered the British accent even as his eyes followed the barrel up to the arm that held it and past, to the face of…Angelina Jolie! Xander blinked in absolute stupefaction.
Wait, the momentary brain hiccup passed, it wasn’t Angelina Jolie. The angles of the face were just slightly different and her body was definitely not that of the actor. The distinctly feminine proportions were all there, but her figure was that of a true athlete. She definitely wasn’t a vampire; she was breathing hard and sweating, as if she had just been doing something strenuous.
“I repeat. Who. Are. You.”
Right. Gun pointed at my forehead. Answer the lady Xander. “Uhn, Xander Harris.”
“How did you get in here?”
Looking cautiously away from her Xander glanced around, and blinked. What the hell? It was a small square corridor: old stonewalls, a stone floor covered in dust dirt and sand, and it was really dark. The only light sources being a small chemical glow-stick hanging from the Jolie look-alike’s belt and…
“Well, I’m kinda guessing my being here has something to do with that.”
He pointed one hand toward the small statue laying half out of the small backpack on the sandy floor. It was identical to the one that had smashed falling off the vampire’s altar and it was glowing slightly.
“Oh, bugger.” Her dark blue eyes went from the statue to him and studied him for another moment then she opened her mouth to speak again. Before she could get anything out a hair-raising noise, somewhere between a scream and a howl, reverberated up out of the darkness of the corridor behind him. “Bloody…”
The pistol swung up away from him and her other hand snaked out to grasp his shirt at the scruff of his neck. One armed she heaved him to his feet and past her in the opposite direction from whatever was making the noise.
“Run, straight ahead!”
Xander hardly need to be told. When something in Sunnydale made that kind of noise, it was definitely not something he wanted to meet. A moment later he slowed, it was getting rather dark and he realized she wasn’t following. Starting to turn back, the sudden thud of running footsteps and brightening light informed him of her approach.
“Uhn, I don’t have a light here.” Before he could even finish the sentence her heard a slight pop and something was thrust into his hand. Her hand shoved him ahead and, running again, he saw the light stick she had just activated and passed to him begin to glow.
The next couple minutes were a nightmare of dim hallways and jumping shadows, of aching lungs and of those god-awful howls getting ever closer in the stygian darkness. She remained right behind, a warm human presence in the middle of the nightmare, directing him at each fork or intersection, sounding utterly calm and collected.
“Up ahead, the alcove on the left side of the corridor. Climb up the rope, quickly.”
It came into view a second later: a slight depression into the monotonous gray walls. A hole was carved into the ceiling and a rope hung out of the blackness above. He angled toward it when something moved in the shadows near the rope. Before he could do more than have his heart jump into his throat, three precise shots rang-out near his side, painfully loud in the enclosed space. The thing in the shadows jerked violently from the impacts staggering back and collapsing into a motionless heap of fur and scales.
Reaching the alcove he scrabbled for the rope and threw himself upward hand over hand, muttering, “I hated this in high school gym.”
“Move faster.” Her voice came from below him and now had a note of tension in it.
The chemical tube, which he had hooked to his shirt collar, using the handy snap on it, threw it’s light above him showing the uniform gray stone of the tube he was climbing up. It seemed to end about another fifteen feet above him. A very close howl from below urged him to hurry as he clawed upward.
Shots rang out below him, and the volume of fire told him the woman had un-holstered the second gun he had noticed on her other thigh. The bellow that came vibrating up the shaft this time had another note in it: pain.
He was almost to the top when the gunfire cut off and her felt the rope jerk glancing down he saw her light climbing upward at a far greater pace than he was moving.
Xander’s head crested the opening of the shaft and he scrabbled at the stone lip then heaved himself over it. Rolling to his hands and knees he saw the anchor bolt that had been driven into the rock with the rope attached. The rope was jiggling wildly as she ascended much faster than he had and the howl that echoed up from below sounded like the-whatever it was- was right underneath. When her hand cleared the lip he reached out to help her over but she swung herself up and out before he could do anything but extend his hand.
The rope went taut as something big grabbed it from below. A quick move of her hand freed a knife up from its sheath on her leg and in a moment the rope was cut, falling back into the darkness where something howled its rage.
She didn’t even pause to let him catch his breath. “Follow me. This is the only way up I know of, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more.” She dragged him to his feet and set off at a run.
More featureless gray corridor flashed by, broken only by the occasional door or hall leading off into darkness. There was something different about these corridors than the ones below, the shadows were less dark, the air was cleaner, and the temperature seemed to be warmer.
Gasping for air Xander kept running, a cramp building in his side. A little in front of him the woman moved easily, in a way that reminded him more of an Olympic sprinter than anything, and to add insult to injury, he didn’t even think she was breathing hard.
Suddenly he noticed a lightening up ahead, a glow almost painfully bright to his dark adjusted eyes. Daylight.
As they approached the exit Xander could see heavy foliage: what looked to be jungle outside. The woman slowed a little as they came in range of the sunlight leaking in. Her head turned toward him, mouth opened to speak, when some sound from the darkness behind them caught her attention. Her long braid swung outward as her head turned quickly in that direction, then the line of her mouth hardened and she stopped within ten feet of the exit.
“Go outside, straight ahead and over the ridge.” Even as she spoke she was tugging something out of her small backpack.
“But-” he managed to gasp out.
“Go.” The word was a flat order.
It was as much the sight of what she was attaching to the walls as her command that got him to move. He had seen enough movies to recognize C-4 when he saw it.
He had reached the rise in the jungle floor just in sight of the labyrinth entrance, about a hundred and fifty feet away, when he stopped. He couldn’t bring himself to just leave her, it went against every instinct he had.
Another minute passed when suddenly she came sprinting out of the underground passageway. The comparison to an Olympic sprinter once again passed through his mind as she belted across the small clearing and up the slope toward him.
A thunderous detonation shook leaves from the trees and his ears popped from the momentary pressure change. She stopped as she reached him and they both looked at the plume of dust and dirt spewing from the collapsed entryway.
Her heard her mutter, “Well, that deals with the immediate problem.”
The last few minutes had been a nightmare, really not all that unusual for the Sunnydale native, the difference was that this had been a confused nightmare. He stared at the beautiful woman beside him, his mind processing the input.
Xander knew he wasn’t as smart as Willow, and he wasn’t exactly detective guy, but the indicators here were so obvious they were screaming. And he was having a hard time believing them.
“We need to get moving. We don’t want to be out her after dark, and my jeep is a few miles down the trail.” He blue eyes met his as she spoke.
He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, and then opened it again, not quite sure how to ask. Looks like Angelina Jolie, speaks with a British accent, has a long hair braid, carries twin .45’s in thigh holsters, and looks to be raiding a tomb.
“You haven’t even told me your name.” He finally got out, in response to her arching eyebrow.
She turned away down the path, motioning for him to follow, and her voice floated back to him. “Lara Croft.”